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When it comes to straw polls, from cradle to grave, there’s a whiff of deception in the air. Hardly anything is what it seems.

For instance, political groups don’t take straw polls to measure voters’ opinions or candidates’ strengths – they take them to gin-up attendance for meetings. By telling a cash-strapped candidate, We’re taking a straw poll at our next meeting so you’d better turn out your supporters. Then the poor candidate starts scrambling, spending precious dollars to get people to go to the meeting to vote for him. To win a straw poll, candidates have been known to pay for supporters’ registration fees to conventions or tickets to dinners.
Last election when the Wake County Republican Party held a straw poll during the Republican Primary, my friend George Holding’s campaign didn’t spend a penny. George attended, spoke  and his campaign went right on spending its money on TV or radio ads to reach thousands of voters.
That night, after the convention, on his way home George called me and said, Well, I finished last.
How many votes did you get?
It wasn’t George’s happiest night of the campaign. But later, on Election Day, talking to voters rather than winning straw polls paid off.
The other night the Wake County Republican Party held another straw poll and, true to form, a candidate who hasn’t aired a single TV ad won. The next morning the News and Observer reported Greg Brannon had beaten Thom Tillis by 12 points and, naturally, anyone reading the story might think Brannon’s cruising to victory in the primary too. But that’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s just one more straw poll that isn’t what it seems.


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5 comments on “Straw Polls

  1. Anonymous says:

    Straw polls tell you who the grassroots activists are for, and in primaries across the state this year, whether it is Tillis in the Senate race, Renee Ellmers in the 2nd CD, or many others, that is very often NOT the candidates pushed by the GOP establishment. Whether that will translate into primary victory or not will depend on whether those grassroots activists are sitting on their hands or whether the candidates they are supporting are running active ground games. Polling of likely voters shows that Brannon is nipping at the heels of Tillis, and will likely end up in a runoff with him. Maybe that is because Brannon is spending his money on a network of local headquarters and an active ground game, the same strategy that Ted Cruz used effectively against the big money of his chief primary opponent David Dewhurst. I also remember that Marco Rubio started winning many straw polls among party activists in Florida when he was in single digits in the voter polls, and that translated into momentum that led to his establishment primary opponent, the sitting GOP governor, dropping out of the primary and running as an independent instead.

  2. Anonymous says:

    After reading that, Carter, I am bummed to learn that you remain an “old guard”, mainstream republican fighting against the new teaparty, constitutional conservative republicans within the GOP apparatus.

    Saddens me. I like much of what you do stand for and I admire what you’ve done for republicans in past years. But, you need to get with the program, my man.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There are two type of straw polls, Carter. One is as you describe, at a function like a dinner, where anyone who buys a ticket can vote. Those are subject to stacking and subject to the sponsors squeezing candidates to build their attendance. The participants who vote may be people who have never participated in politics and never really will.

    The other type is one of a fixed body of political activists, that is not thrown together for the mere purpose of a straw vote. Votes by a county convention, which is made up of delegates elected at precinct meetings at an earlier time, or a county executive committee. These bodies are formed to do the party work and consist of the people who do it. The straw poll is not what brought the participants together. Votes at this type of straw poll are reflective of what party activists think, and are a good indicator of that. It also reflects what those who focus on politics and are well informed are thinking.

    In the 2014 races, we have had both types of straw polls. At the NCGOP Hall of Fame dinner, an event where anyone who paid for a ticket could vote, there was a squeeze on candidates, and the results were thrown by packing. In a very bizarre move, only the top finisher was announced, something done by the party leadership to help Tillis who they expected to finish first. Thus they cut out any bump for Brannon, who based on stickers on peoples lapels clearly would have finished second but the party refused to announce that. The way Tillis packed that vote was by scheduling a House GOP caucus meeting at the same location just before the dinner. He had the legislators right where he needed them and their wives to go vote for him in the straw poll, and unlike other participants, they could write checks for their attendance out of their campaign accounts rather than personal accounts.

    At the county conventions, which are not subject to packing due to the fact that no delegates can be added to the lists after the precinct meetings the preceding month had adjourned, Brannon has regularly when whipping Tillis in the straw polls, often by good margins. In Tillis’ home county, the party leadership cancelled the straw poll at the last minute because they expected Tillis would have been embarrassed by the result. Then there are places like Gates County, which had no straw poll, but the County GOP Executive Committee voted unanimously to endorse Brannon.

    Where the party activists sit makes a particular difference in a runoff, where the turnout is much lower and the votes of the party activists count even more heavily.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like politicians like to fool themselves. I think sometimes they begin to believe the spin that they push out to the public. They know it isn’t true, but they start to believe it themselves.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Here are the results of another one of those straw polls, this one of delegates and alternates to the 3rd Congressional District Republican convention. These people did not walk in off the street by buying a ticket. They are party activists who were elected by other party activists at county conventions last month to represent their counties,

    Brannon 59%
    Tillis 24%
    Harris 11%
    Alexander 4%
    others 2%

    The party bosses may be trying to put their thumb on the scales for squishy Tillis, but the grassroots is not drinking that koolaid.

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